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Harvard professor convicted for hiding affiliation with China

A Harvard chemistry professor was convicted on Tuesday for lying to authorities regarding his affiliation with a Chinese government educational program as well as failing to report income he made from a Chinese university.

Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard University’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, was convicted on two counts of making false statements to federal authorities, two counts of failing to report foreign financial accounts with the IRS and two counts of making a false tax return.

Lieber was arrested in January of 2020 on Harvard’s campus and accused of failing to disclose foreign financial conflicts of interest when he received over $15,000 in grant funding from both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Defense (DoD).

According to authorities, Lieber became a “Strategic Scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology in 2011 and was also a contractual participant of China’s Thousand Talents Plan from 2012 to 2017. Harvard, which Lieber joined in 1991, was allegedly unaware of his work in China.

When asked about his involvement in the Thousand Talent Plan, Lieber told federal authorities that he was never asked to join the program, but said he “wasn’t sure” how the Chinese government categorized him. According to authorities Lieber earned income from the Wuhan University of Technology during the 2013 and 2014 tax years in the form of salary.

 

Lieber, who has been diagnosed with late-stage lymphoma, according to The Harvard Crimson, is now facing several years in prison and potentially over $1 million in fines. The Hill has reached out to Lieber’s attorney for comment.

When reached by The Hill, Harvard University declined to comment on the verdict. The school also declined to comment on Lieber’s employment status following his conviction.

Lieber had been placed on leave with pay before his trial began.

Lieber was charged under the “China Initiative,” which was started by the Trump administration in 2018 with the mission of finding “economic” Chinese spies in the U.S. The initiative has been criticized for targeting and promoting racial profiling against U.S. college professors of Asian descent — particularly those with Chinese heritage.

Earlier this year, Stanford University professors asked the Department of Justice to end the China initiative, writing in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland that the program has “deviated significantly from its claimed mission.”

They argued that the initiative is “harming the United States’ research and technology competitiveness and it is fueling biases that, in turn, raise concerns about racial profiling.”

— Updated at 10:11 a.m.

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